Thursday, December 14, 2017

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

From left, Sarah Brazier, Brittni Barger
and Elyse Sharp perform in the
Capital Stage production of
“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,”
on stage through Dec. 30.
Charr Crail/Courtesy photo
Attention, Jane Austen fans: Capital Stage has a wonderful Christmas gift for you. “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon is a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice,” and takes place two years after the book ends.
If you (like me) are not a Jane Austen fan, not to worry — this delightful comedy-drama featuring four of the five Bennet sisters coming together to celebrate Christmas is just as delightful. There are probably a lot of nuances and back story bits that pass you by, but you’ll never know it.

This show centers on Mary (Elyse Sharp), the middle Bennet sister who, some say, gets short shrift in the book because of her “pedantic air and conceited manner.” At 20, she’s a spinster and a bookworm. She is more interested in learning and longs for a bigger life outside the societal expectations of 18th-century women. She is uninterested in the frivolous romantic adventures of her sisters.

Sister Elizabeth Darcy (Brittni Barger), now married to hunky Mr. Darcy (J.R. Yancher, a Davis resident), is the mistress of Pemberley, the Darcy estate. The gorgeous set designed by Eric Broadwater is dominated by a real Christmas tree, which will be decorated throughout the evening. It is a novelty for all the others, as the indoor Christmas tree is just beginning to be the fashion in Germany.

The Bingleys arrive — the very-pregnant sister Jane (Andrea J. Love) and husband Charles (Kevin Gish). Jane is “the sweet one” and does her best to calm people down when things threaten to get out of hand.

The last sister, Lydia (Sarah Brazier) arrives without her husband, who was “detained in Bath,” she explains. Lydia is self-absorbed and flirtatious. Brazier gives a very energetic performance that is perhaps a tad too loud, but definitely obnoxious.

She sets her sights on Arthur de Bourgh (Aaron Kitchin), Mr. Darcy’s cousin, who recently inherited a large estate and has no idea what to do with it. He is there to celebrate the holidays, but as he is a loner who prefers books to people, he definitely feels out of place and more than a little overwhelmed with Lydia’s attentions.

Though the plot is predictable — how two shy bookworms find the courage to admit their attraction to each other, amid all the chaos around them — getting there is half the fun, and director Peter Mohrman has kept the pace swift and the dialog crisp.

Things are further complicated by the arrival of Anne deBourgh (Lyndsy Kail), who announces that she is Arthur’s fiancée (a surprise to him).

Though the actors gave uniformly excellent performances, my heart went out to Kitchin’s Arthur and his awkwardness. Similarly, Gish’s Bingley, while perhaps the smallest role in the show, had such a look on his face — like he had a fun joke that only he knows. It was quite appealing.

Sharp’s Mary was cold and controlled, but with a desire she had not dealt with before just below the surface. Watching both her and Arthur struggling with unfamiliar feelings was very sweet.
In the end, the love that the women have for each other overshadows all difficulties and it shines as brightly as the now-decorated Christmas tree.

“Miss Bennet” is a nice, unusual Christmas story, which I hope will become a staple in years to come. It’s fun to see something different for a change!

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